John Oliver attends the 11th Annual Stand Up for Heroes at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Nov. 7, 2017.
Roy Rochlin—Getty Images
By Melissa Locker
September 9, 2019

To mark the return of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver turned his attention to “Sharpiegate,” the looming Brexit deadline and, for his main story, legislation in Washington, D.C., best known by some as “Bill” from the Schoolhouse Rock cartoons. (“Fun fact: his last name is Cosby and you can see why he dropped it,” Oliver said.) As the Democratic primaries approach, 2020 presidential candidates have been proposing various bills they hope to pass once they are in office—from Medicare for All to new housing to freedom dividends. “The problem is that as appealing as some of those ideas sound, none are likely to happen…because they have to go through the Senate,“ Oliver said. “You know the Senate, the country’s second-most influential body after Dwayne ‘The Rock‘ Johnson’s.”

Currently, the Senate is “a giant non-functioning roadblock,” and that’s not according to Oliver, but according to a montage of farewell clips from Senators leaving their posts. Oliver noted that the last big piece of legislation the Senate passed was arguably “Obamacare a decade ago” and that’s largely due to “one incredibly annoying legislative tool.” Oliver made sure to note that he was not referring to Sen. Mitch McConnell—“although he is certainly at fault”—but to the filibuster, a delay tactic that ensures a bill is never voted on. According to Oliver, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington made the filibuster look like a good idea, the same way The Wizard of Oz made going on trip with “a furry, a vagrant and an axe-wielding robot seem like a good idea.” In practice, the filibuster means a simple majority is no longer enough to pass laws and “theoretically“ allows Senators from 21 states that represent “just 11% of Americans” to overrule laws for everyone else. “To quote anyone who has ever sat in a bathroom stall with a three inch gap in the door, why on earth was it designed this way?” Oliver asked, before launching into explanation of the tool.

Some claim it is to protect the opinion of the minority, while others claim it harks back to the Constitution and the glorious debates of past legislative bodies. “Feeling nostalgic for the golden age of the Senate is like feeling nostalgic for ’90s indie films and then actually watching Chasing Amy,“ said Oliver. A bill can be killed by filibuster if a Senator merely announces they have 41 votes and a desire to filibuster, which means that its use has skyrocketed. According to Oliver, “We have reached the point where Senators don’t so much brag about what they have passed as brag about what they will obstruct.“

Despite the risk of rolling back the filibuster rule, Oliver believes it is worth it. To prove that point, he proceeded to filibuster the filibuster with his own 15 hour speech—sort of.

Watch John Oliver on Last Week Tonight below.

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